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Classic Comedy Holds Up

ACT I production of You Can’t Take It With You elicits enough laughs


There’s nothing innovative about the ACT I production of the comedy classic You Can’t Take It With You—but unlike, say, Bertolt Brecht (see main review, above), this material doesn’t really demand an inventive approach. The strength here is the writing, which holds up pretty nicely for a play going on 70 years old. Co-author George S. Kaufman was a brainy guy and an acclaimed comic master, and his clever jabs at government paranoia, the intrusion of the IRS into our lives, and the money-at-all-costs American work ethic come through loud and clear in this simple tale of the ill-timed collision of two families—one stuffy and uptight, the other freewheeling and carefree.

Marianne Clark’s staging manages to elicit a lot of laughter, and last Saturday’s Valentine’s Day show boasted a near-sellout of generally satisfied customers. The production is usually at its best when Pat Reilly is deftly handling the role of patriarch Martin Vanderhof, who serves as the lighthearted conscience in a household where everyone is encouraged to pursue their passions—playwriting (however amateurish), ballet (however hopeless), music (with modest accomplishment) and even the manufacture of fireworks (which ultimately create quite a stir). Reilly is appealingly relaxed throughout, and he delivers his often hilarious one-liners with excellent timing.

The rest of the ensemble is a mixed bag of talent, and some of the casting decisions seem off. Michael Oliver and Melissa Landry, for example, read a little too old for their roles as the young couple in love. Jade Bannister weighs in enthusiastically as the inept would-be ballerina Essie, but she comes off in the end as corny and witless. As lady of the house Penny Sycamore, Luella Aubrey VanHook performs well enough, but she appears to be directed out of the picture way too often, especially since hers is a pivotal role. As tight-ass Wall Street executive Mr. Kirby, Danny Proctor yields similar results—he’s working hard, but his performance might’ve been sharpened with more specific directorial guidance. Matthew G. Davis acquits himself with charm as xylophone-playing son-in-law Ed Carmichael, and Layne Sasser is also very likable as Rheba, the family maid. The comic cameos by Billy Rosenberg, Bob Woolf and Bob Young elicit solid laughs.

Doug Whatley’s set is a generally attractive model of economy, and considering the fact that this show would breathe more on a wider stage—and hence might be even funnier—he deserves serious credit for making it work at all. The 1930s-era costumes were a group effort and at a glance appear suitably period-appropriate.

All things considered, not a bad show—but not ACT I’s best either. You Can’t Take It With You runs through Feb. 21 at Darkhorse Theater. @byline2:—Martin Brady

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